Saturday, 31 March 2012

Leaky Buckets

We are all just bundles of energy and we have a choice about how we use that energy: we can learn how to preserve it, how to maintain it and increase it, so that we can use it for the good things that we want to do with our lives.  None of us wants to wander through life dead on our feet, strung out, wired, unhappy and with little or no patience for others.  Depleted people have very little to give to others; you need your energy to be your best self.   I believe this wholeheartedly.

My friend has a parking ticket and she is cross about it and wants to complain; my friend has a lot of difficult things going on in her life at the moment and a small child to care for, so I wonder aloud if now is the time for engaging in a battle, which will likely end in having to pay the fine anyway, when she needs her energy for her own life and for more important things.  Someone else I know insists upon a spotless house even though she has just embarked on a new course at university and no longer has the time she used to have for housework.  Another friend lives in almost permanent chaos to the extent that every time she tries to find her keys it takes her an inordinate amount of time and energy just to find them and get out of the house.  Other people can't say no and sit there at parties and dinners and lunches wondering why on earth they are wasting their time there when they could be doing something more personally fulfilling.  My dad could barely take a drive when I was a kid without screaming and hollering at all the 'bad' drivers on the road.  We all have our ways of wasting our energy.  What do I do?  I think I have tried too hard in my adult life to make everything perfect and to be organised for everyone; I find it difficult to say no; and I am not very good at remembering to look after myself; if I don't pay attention to these tendencies, I end up exhausted and resentful and cross and then I end up wasting a bit more energy on being angry.   

Sometimes I break down: I am sad or upset, or I experience a surge of low feelings. Over the years I have noticed how this wears me out and leaves me feeling drained and empty and as though I have nothing left to give. Sometimes I get angry and lose my temper at things that don't really matter, wasting my energy on things that don't serve me (there is nothing wrong with anger, by the way, just anger that doesn't serve you). In the past I have paddled the boat of my life and my family so fast and so hard, trying to keep myself and everyone else afloat and free from pain or disorder, that I have ended up totally exhausted.

Now, the catharsis of being upset can often bring relief; and low feelings can be your body trying to tell you that something is not right and needs your attention; anger is an important emotion, which must not be ignored; and being organised can bring ease to a day.  Energy will be consumed, one way or another and I am not going to suggest that in order to conserve our energy, we all become something less than human, something unreal and controlled and cramped that holds those emotions that we might consider to be 'bad' (or that someone has made us think are 'bad') in. I want us all to be as human as possible, in all of our messed up, confused, generous, loving, beautiful glory. I just hope that more of us can learn how not to waste our energy on things that don't deserve it.

Yoga and meditation have something very profound to offer us as we seek to maintain our energy levels and to use that precious energy for the positive things in our lives and in the world.  First, we cannot escape self-observation in yoga... if you are wasting energy on hidden feelings / pain / insecurity / anger / shame / whatever your thing is; when you sit quietly it will be there waiting for you to notice it and do something about it.  And it won't go away until you do something about it; until you stop using that energy for suppressing painful feelings, you will forever be short of the vitality you need for a vibrant life.  In addition, self-reflection brings you the self-understanding to know when you have wasted time and energy acting a certain way, when you could have chosen a different and more beneficial response.  You can't change what you have already done, but you can work on having the capacity to pause, breathe, and act more wisely next time around.  Second, a big reason for practising yoga in the first place is to open up your blocked energy channels (nadis) so that you can remove all that stands between union with your true self; with your soul.

It's not my idea, but I love the idea of us all being buckets.  My teacher, Mukunda Stiles, said to us once "No one wants to be a leaky bucket" and he's absolutely right.  Some people have holes all over them out of which bursts their energy, wasted on situations, people and feelings that aren't worth it.  Others only feel comfortable using all of their energy on everyone else's happiness, forgetting that their bucket needs to be full, full to overflowing, before they truly will have enough love and compassion to give to others.  It is important that we feel worthy enough to believe that our buckets deserve to be full; if you don't feel worthy of having your bucket filled by the things that bring you joy, then you need to ask yourself, very seriously, why that is so and what you can do about it.

Think of yourself as a bucket.  If something has drained you, then you need to fill yourself up again, without regret and in the full knowledge that you deserve to be cared for by yourself and for yourself.  If you are like me, then you first have to get over the idea that your bucket shouldn't be empty (I should be able to do this without ending up feeling exhausted): you know when it is empty, doubtless the fact that a simple event or act has left you feeling empty is important and deserves some attention, but your bucket is empty!  Don't deplete it further by beating yourself up about it!  Work out what fills your bucket up again and do it.  When your bucket is so full that it is overflowing, who do you think gets the extra?  Everybody else.  The world.  The universe.

I fill my bucket up by being with my friends, by surfing and being near the sea, by visiting art galleries and museums, by walking alone with my dog, in silence, meditation and asana and in teaching yoga.

What do you do?  And how are you going to make sure that you make time for yourself to do it?


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Inspiring Students

I have a new student.  Teaching him is the most rewarding thing that I do in my week just now.  He has been ill, really quite ill for more than a decade.  His body is weak and wonky and he has a prolapsed disc in his lower back, an unhealthily tilted pelvis and a smorgasbord of ailments all over his body.  When I arrive, his breath moves only in the very top of his chest, and as he speaks his breath comes in short gasps that interrupt his sentences and make it sound like he has just stopped running, even though he is standing there totally at rest in the middle of his living room.  He always starts by telling me how he has been – what has been hurting, what has been pulled, which part of himself has twanged or feels out of joint.  He hurts himself at the gym, or when he is standing for too long talking to a friend in a bar, or at the cinema when he sits still for more than half an hour.  He has stomach pain and bloating, for which he takes medicine that gives him migraines.  He has been living with pain for a long time.  For almost as long as my son has been alive.  He has tried ignoring it.  He has tried doing something about it.  He has been to doctors and consultants and physiotherapists and personal trainers and pilates teachers.  He has become an expert on the vagaries of his body.  But he is still in pain.

Then he went on holiday and there were free yoga classes in the hotel, so he went along to a couple of them and he felt different.  He loved it.  And when he lay in savasana at the end of the class, it was as though something within him had come to life again; he felt more at ease in his body than he had done for years; he was relaxed.

When he got home he called me.

What is so very rewarding about teaching this man is that when I arrive in his house he is pale and his body is tight, usually he is in pain.  But after an hour of very gentle and specific yoga his face has a healthful flush, he is smiling and his eyes are shining.  When I look at him after he has practised I can believe in reincarnation, for his body loves and responds to yoga in such a profound way that it is as though he has practised yoga in a former life.  I look at him and the clarity in his eyes and I think to myself that his body is crying out for yoga; he soaks it up like a sponge; his energy starts to move again; he looks and feels better.  It is a wonderful thing to witness.

I don’t teach him every week (he is not always around) and sometimes with a private student, this can be frustrating… they don’t see you for three weeks and they don’t practise in between times, so every lesson is the first lesson.  It is potentially frustrating for me and for them.  But every time I leave this student, I leave him with a simple programme of very specific exercises to open and strengthen his body and to improve his  breathing and he does it; he actually finds time every day to do at least some yoga. 

His body knows what his mind is catching up with – that he has already been all around the houses seeking a cure and an explanation for his pain; he has a masters degree in the workings of his own body; but in his yoga practice he is learning how to do the most beneficial, the most important thing that any of us can do in our lives, he is learning how to listen to his own body; how to tune into his own innate wisdom about himself; he is learning how to be well.

I love that he approaches his practice with absolute humility: not for him the gymnastics and egocentric contortions that many of us seek from yoga asana, particularly in the beginning, he wants to work simply and steadily and to build his strength slowly and with patience, he knows that the gifts of yoga will not come in a flash; he knows that there are no quick fixes for him (for anyone).  But he has felt within himself that yoga works and he has taken responsibility for his practice and for his own recovery.  He continues to seek the advice of doctors and health professionals and to heed it, but only in addition to what he hears from his own self.

I am so grateful to be able to teach this man and am reminded every time I leave that we teach what we most need to learn, and that our students teach us more than we could ever hope to teach them.  His humility, openness and beginner’s mind are an inspiration; the glow of his cheeks when I leave, the deeper resonance of his breath, the greater ease with which he moves are a testament to his commitment to practice; he wants to find a way to help himself be well and the path that has found him is yoga.  It is my very great fortune to be able, in some small measure, to help him on his way. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Leaps of Faith

It is interesting how choosing something new can be so very frightening.  It brings up all our fears and doubts; it makes us question what we really want from life (there is nothing wrong with wanting a new pair of shoes every month, but if that is what you want, you might as well admit it).  Often we find ourselves clinging to old ways of living, as we try to convince ourselves that it's really not so bad and if we just focus on the good things about our current job/relationship/home/(fill in the blank) then it's ok and we don't need to change at all.  We scare ourselves with stories about what will happen if we fail: the money you could lose, the job you might leave that you can't get back, your fear that the new thing might end up worse than what you currently have, or that you won't like your new choice after all, or that you make a mistake...  The one thing all this fearful self-talk does is to keep you stuck.

Listen to yourself.  You know when things aren't right on a deep and fundamental level that no amount of tinkering with the surface details is going to change.  You know in your heart what fulfilment feels like and whether or not you are experiencing it in your life.

If you look around you you will realise that you are not alone in finding new choices and life change difficult... you'll know at least one person who is always complaining about their job and how much they hate it, but who never leaves; you might know someone who changes things all the time, but who hasn't realised that all those changes are to hide their deep-seated fear and seeming inability to change themselves for the better; you might know someone who has always wanted to do something (be a yoga teacher/retrain to be a teacher/become a full time artist), but claims that they don't have the time, or their children need them at home, or that they can't afford it.

And it's no use seeking advice from those around you until you are prepared to listen to yourself.  We can all find a hundred people who think we should fulfil our dreams... and another hundred people who come up with equally good reasons why it would not be a good idea.  Until you decide for yourself, nobody can help you to your goal.

There are other fears too, associated with the new... it might bring us to face all sorts of demons we have lurking inside.  Perhaps we will have to rely on a partner for financial support while we start our new venture - this might bring up all sorts of questions about trust and independence and learning to rely on someone else.  Perhaps we will have to find some inner courage to stand up and do our new thing, when we are new to it and we are unsure of ourselves and not convinced that we will be able to do it.  Perhaps we are wedded to success and afraid of failing (and failing in public too).  Whatever you have lurking there, it's ok.  We all have those things hanging around; you can keep them a secret, or you can talk about them with trusted friends who you know will not judge you, who you know want you to find your way to a fulfilled life; who will help you to move in your right direction, whatever that direction is.

Some changes we don't choose, they are thrust upon us and we must find a way to learn from them because we do not have a choice; but that is not the change that I am talking about here.  What I am talking about is taking a risk, listening to your heart, being brave enough to make some difficult decisions and making a positive choice for something different.

And part of choosing something new is letting go of the old and letting go can be very difficult.  You might think, 'but I am safe here', 'but people know me here', 'but I know what I am doing here', and you would be right, but the fact that 'here' is safe and familiar is not always reason enough for staying put.  You can't carry it all with you and it needs for something to be left behind for there to be space for something new.  And the new can be good and it can revitalise you and it can change your life for the better on dozens of levels. 

Take a deep breath.  Be patient with yourself.  New things are challenging and daunting for everyone.  Take a deep breath.  Listen to yourself; in your heart, you know what you want.  If you can't hear what your heart is saying just now, or if the messages seem confused, then get quiet/be alone/make a list/do whatever it is that you need to do to get some clarity for yourself.  If you meditate, then go and sit on your mat and meditate; if you practise asana, go and do some asana.  Again, be patient with yourself - there is no rush.  Try not to indulge in frightening self-talk, or if you must (and sometimes it is irresistible), then let a friend help you through it.  See if you can start to talk yourself into it, rather than out of it.

If you fail, the people who love you will still love you.  If you fail, you will do something else, but you will not have failed without learning some valuable lessons.  If your new venture doesn't take off as you had hoped, then you might work part time at something else to make it work for you.  You can move again, choose again, think again and carry on.  Nothing stays the same forever.  Does accepting that help you to make positive choices in your life? 

Go to it with your best foot forward.  Go to it with an open-heart.  Go to it with an open-mind... it might not end up exactly as you have pictured it, and that will be ok, because it will end up how it is supposed to end up.  When we look back, it is easy to see the validity of this statement, but to trust it going forward requires faith and courage.  But you have that, don't you.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Inner Peace

Imagine making inner peace the only goal of your life.  How might things change for you then?  How might it lead you to take different routes and make different choices?  What things would you do; what would you avoid?  What leads you towards your goal; what pulls you away?  Which are the things that seem to bring you inner peace, but really only bring temporary pleasure or distraction?

If you make inner peace the only goal of your yoga practice, it transforms it into what it was originally intended to be: a method of finding peace, fulfilment and contentment.   It helps you to choose your teachers wisely and to practice at home in a way that brings you inner benefit, rather than outer glory.  Your search for inner peace will lead you away from pain and towards ease - in your body and in your mind. 

But making inner peace your goal is not an easy choice; it wouldn't all be plain sailing.  Making inner peace your aim is a challenge:- it might cause you to look at your job and whether or not it brings you peace and fulfilment (or positively hinders it); it might cause you to look at your relationships with other people and ask which ones help you to find your way to wholeness, and which ones bring only depletion of your energy.  You might have to let go of some things that you have been carrying around with you - a sense of lingering guilt, perhaps, or an inability to forgive someone who has hurt you; you might have to give up on the idea that you are not yet good enough and accept that of course you are; you might have to let go of some ideas you have about what your life was supposed to look like and who you were supposed to be.

Choosing inner peace might make you prioritise your time differently - doing less of what you think you ought and more of what you think you need.  There may be people around you who will not understand your new way of living.  Some people find it hard to adjust to change in others, or to adapt to people who choose differently.  In short, you might not be able to bring everyone you love with you, and this can be a scary prospect.  If you choose inner peace as your goal, you will need to be steadfast and you will need to be kind.

And choosing inner peace is not a kind of numbing to the things in your life that are not right.  You do not achieve inner peace by packing away your feelings, desires, personality and individuality (whatever your thing is) in order to accept the way things are.  Accepting the way things are by force of will and by attempting to numb yourself to the niggling doubts that exist in your mind is not choosing inner peace - it is merely choosing to learn to put up with things.  This is quite a different thing and I don't think it leads to inner peace.

But I can't think of anything that I want more than inner peace - happiness, health, wealth, energy, family, careers, people... all these things come and go and, my goodness life is difficult sometimes, but inner peace... inner peace is ease in your own skin; inner peace is looking after yourself and giving love to others, whoever they are and whatever they are doing with their lives; inner peace is living without judgement; inner peace is forgiveness and letting go; inner peace is sleeping when you need to sleep and working when you need to work and moving with grace through this world.

Every day; every time you have to make a decision or a choice you could ask yourself which option increases your inner peace and which one depletes it and see where it leaves you.  My guess is that it will leave us all in a much better, more content, more energetic, more fun place where interesting things happen.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Invisibility and Silence

Sometimes I like to be invisible and I like to be silent.
I just do.
It has taken me all of my forty years to fully know, understand and accept this about myself and to share it with you. 

I am a very sociable person.  I love people.  I like to be out and about and to talk to people - all people - the ones I know and the ones I don't know. I like to learn about people and to learn about myself through other people and, truly, other humans are endlessly fascinating and wonderful (sometimes in their awfulness!) and they have so much to teach you if you let them.  And I love teaching and I am so content when I stand in front of a class of yogis that I forget myself entirely, I am so joyfully in the flow of what I do that it absorbs me completely and wholeheartedly. 

But sometimes, quite often, I need to be silent and I need to be invisible.  So I sit in a tea shop with my book and half read, half watch the world go by, observing, but unobserved.  Or I walk the dog in solitary bliss and try not to mind when I bump into other humans along the other way.  I contrive to find times for myself when I can be alone and quiet, even in the middle of a crowd (sometimes those times are the best).

This means that some situations are quite difficult for me: Christmas, for example, when everyone is in the same house at the same time and there is noise and jollity and busyness.  I love it.  And suddenly I don't.  And I need to escape.  And I hope nobody minds when I sneak off to be invisible and silent somewhere else.

Do you know what a simple thing this is, my need for invisibilty and silence?  Do you know how long it has taken me to understand this about myself, to encompass it in my life, to accept it in myself; to learn how to give myself the blessed gift of invisibility and silence without regret or guilt?

Isn't it silly how hard it is to fully know ourselves and to give ourselves what we need to be well.  Isn't it sad that it can be so hard to ask clearly for what we need from the world and the people around us.  Isn't it a shame that if you don't have a practice like yoga, you might never come to understand, quite simply and without fanfare, who exactly you are and how wonderful who you are is.

What things might you know about yourself, but be unwilling to acknowledge?  Who would you rather be?  What might life be like if you were able to completely accept your lovely self as you are?  How might life feel if you gave yourself permission to give yourself the nurturance that you need when you need it?  How would it be if you were to ask others to help you to be well; to let them love you as they would like to?